Ralph Alessi – Baida

BaidaThis quartet first convened for Ralph Alessi’s Cognitive Dissonance, released on Cam Jazz in 2010. Then a track from this session (“Zone”, not included here) was previewed on last year’s monumental ECM retrospective Selected Signs III-VIII. That label’s Manfred Eicher is the producer here, and Baida practically radiates his characteristically austere and luminous treatment – remarkably lucid, with every contact sound captured crisply, but oddly anaerobic.

Bassist Drew Gress is terrifically present and dynamic at times – witness the uptempo standout “I Go, You Go” – but at others he’s little more than a shade at the threshold of perception; the focus is elsewhere. In this way Eicher’s production works to break down and focus the listener’s concentration. Of course, Alessi is the principle focus throughout. His sound is burnished, his lines bold yet plaintive, his solos supremely assured.

Two takes of title track bookend the album. The gauzy delicacy of this piece suggests that the quartet might take the opportunity of working with Eicher to explore a Jon Hassell-informed ambience, but they’re actually mostly brisk and kinetic, balancing a heightened melodic sensitivity with the power of unity throughout a songbook of striking harmonic, rhythmic and temporal complexity. Eicher’s clear separation aurally spotlights the felicitous intricacies of their interactions, emphasising the  precision and refinement in each gesture even as the quintet’s unified power strikes home.

This is one classy band. Nasheet Waits reveals even more of the exquisite sense of dynamics, coloration and timing he’s evidenced throughout a longstanding partnership with bassist Tarus Mateen in Jason Moran’s Bandwagon (and even in a more muscular trio with Eric Revis and Peter Brötzmann). Moran is on the money throughout; boldly conceptual in his soloing and exquisitely tasteful in collective interplay. The rapid patterning of his cymbals is often enough to kindle some fire in the group belly, which, when it catches, thrums with intensity (witness: “Sanity”). But there are also moments of refinement: the elegant piano trio passage on “Shank”, and Alessi’s sensitive coming in; and the shading from meditative to suppressed turbulence on the highly original “11/1/10”, on which Moran rather steals the show. Alessi gets composer’s honours though.

Ralph Alessi trumpet; Jason Moran piano; Drew Gress bass; Nasheet Waits drums.

Related Posts
Drew Gress – The Sky Inside.
Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran – Hagar’s Song.

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